It was a lovely, sunny day; great conditions for paragliding, with light thermals building. I’ve been doing paragliding for 24 years. It’s the simplest form of aviation that exists; you fly using a fabric wing, which keeps its form by the air pressure going into it. I think everyone wants to fly, there’s still a bit of the ancestral bird in us.
On this particular day I was setting off from Bo Peep Hill, on the South Downs in East Sussex, around 11am.
We were facing north east, into a north easterly breeze. The hill is about 600ft, which slopes quite steeply into the fields below. There was about 30 of us due to fly, which is quite a lot of paragliders, meaning you’re restricted as to what you can do.
I flew away from the hill, and thought ‘I need to do a nice tight circle here, to stay in this lifting air, and then get up above everybody else.’ I started my circle, checking there weren’t any other pilots around me. I started my circle and when I’d just done under about half, I realized I’d got it wrong and that I was in danger of going back into the hill with some force. I tried to tighten my turn, which actually makes the glider dive downwards. And so I hit the hill, quite hard. I was going at just over 30km an hour, descending at 6m per second. I landed flat on my back with an incredibly loud noise.
I was told I bounced. I was dazed but fully conscious, and could feel immediate pain in my upper spine. My arms, hands and legs were numb too. I was very conscious of the possibility that I’d done maybe serious spinal damage and that in those circumstances you don’t want to move. My son was there, so it was quite an alarming moment for him.
Very quickly people were around me, making sure my glider didn’t reinflate and pull me across the hill. We have a lot of first aiders as part of the club that I was flying with, who were quickly on hand to see if any immediate intervention was needed.
The emergency services were called. They used the what3words app to pinpoint our location. An ambulance was dispatched, which arrived around the same time as the helicopter from KSS did.
The KSS medical team worked with the crew from the South East Coast Ambulance Service, to assess me from head to toe; they were very supportive and at all stages explained what was going to happen next. The team had to free me from my paragliding equipment and secure me to a stretcher; they were very methodical in their approach as they were concerned about potential spinal injuries.
I was taken to the Royal County Sussex Hospital where the professionalism and care from the crews on scene was matched by that of the hospital staff, who checked me over and took me for an urgent CT scan. Fortunately everything was fine, the numbness in my limbs began to subside and all that remained was a pain in my neck, which was in essence a soft tissue injury and thankfully nothing more serious.